Media frenzy in US after Newsweek says it tracked down bitcoin's creator

After car chase, Japanese American identified by Newsweek issues denial

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 11:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 4:16am

The day started with a possible answer to one of the digital era's greatest mysteries: who created the bitcoin virtual currency that has become a multibillion-dollar global phenomenon?

From there, with the revelation by Newsweek magazine that it might be Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, a 64-year-old Japanese American living in Temple City, California, the day got wilder.

It featured a media frenzy on his front lawn and a car chase as Nakamoto rode in a Prius driven by an Associated Press reporter trying to elude other reporters. And then, a denial from Nakamoto, as he climbed into a lift at the downtown offices of AP, that he was the creator of bitcoin.

"I never was involved," he told a Los Angeles Times reporter, saying there was only one reason he had agreed to even talk to a reporter. "It was all for a free lunch."

The remarks hinted at some finality but in truth only contributed to the murkiness surrounding the true identity of "Satoshi Nakamoto", the mastermind behind bitcoin.

The Newsweek story also sparked a backlash from members of the bitcoin community.

"He always used non-tracking e-mails and did everything he could to stay anonymous, so it's difficult for me to understand why he would use his real name," said Adam Draper, who runs a start-up that invests in bitcoin-related companies.

Following a trail of clues over several months, Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman believed she had tracked down the real bitcoin creator. The article said Satoshi Nakamoto was not a fake name.

The story also said he had a career in technology that included some classified work for major corporations and US defence agencies. Nakamoto's modest home surprised the reporter because the real bitcoin creator owns about US$400 million in bitcoins.

The bitcoin revelation was so startling that, if true, even his own family could not believe it.

"For weeks my family and I have contemplated the validity of it and most of us have made the assumption that it's false," his son, Reilly Nakamoto, said.

Still, national and foreign media began camping out in front of the two-storey house in a nondescript neighbourhood.

Several hours later, Nakamoto announced he was not going to talk to anyone until he got some lunch first. An AP reporter offered to buy him lunch, and, to the dismay of the other media members, the pair climbed into a Prius and drove to Mako Sushi in Arcadia, California.

Several reporters followed them to Mako and tried to join the conversation. Nakamoto and the AP reporter then hopped back into their car and for the next hour or so drove around with at least six other journalists tailing them.

Finally, the Prius stopped at the downtown AP building. A Times reporter followed Nakamoto into the lift, where he made his denial.

A few hours later, AP published an article quoting Nakamoto as saying he had never heard of bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a reporter three weeks ago.